DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte has rejected using any of her OVP budget of P2.3 billion to support DepEd programs. She instead wants an additional P100 billion added to the DepEd’s original allocation of P710 billion to resolve education problems in six years. She has talked about many good things that she can do with the money, but we are still clueless about what she will do about the core, critical education challenge for which she is responsible. We only know that however much money she gets, she cannot eliminate learning poverty within six years.
That she can boldly assume a commitment no one can seriously impose on her is alarming, suggesting a lack of appreciation of the scale of the problem. The crisis is bigger than DepEd; bigger even than government, requiring the support of the private sector as well. But the response must include a conscientious review of the MTBMLE policy. And MTBMLE is indisputably DepEd’s baby, adopted 25 years ago, following a 70-year old UNESCO advocacy. As DepEd Secretary, Br. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC (1998-2001), former De la Salle University president and a Berkeley PhD in Linguistics, initiated the Department’s shift to the UNESCO strategy. His successors continued to support the policy.
MTBMLE was the UNESCO’s response to the challenge of linguistic diversity inherited by post-colonial states. Defying the logic of geography and culture, foreign colonial rulers had stitched together political units that emerged after decolonization as independent nations that lacked the connective tissues of a common national language. In India, Timor Leste, and many countries in Africa, multiple languages within a single state had contributed to internal conflicts and civil wars.
After victory in a war of liberation against the Netherlands, Indonesia dropped Dutch, in which the indigenous elite had been educated, as its official language. It also declined to privilege Javanese as the national language, although it was the dominant mother tongue on Java and, like Tagalog in the Philippines, the language of the political leadership. It chose instead Bahasa Indonesia, the market lingua franca of Jakarta. Growing the language took over 50 years, but Indonesia has overcome the initial handicap of language diversity.
The American emphasis on building a national education system and promoting the use of English in the public domain enabled the Philippines to evade the resistance of other linguistic communities to the Commonwealth decree establishing Tagalog as the prospective national language. From Aparri to Zamboanga, students reared in different mother tongues graduated from college – and even from high school during the colonial period – with a working knowledge of English. Beyond independence, English remained the dominant language in print and broadcast media, entertainment, business, the bureaucracy, and politics.
In the ’60s, however, a quiet concern began surfacing among educators that education was becoming the Great Disequalizer. Filipinos had always recognized a college diploma as the key to social and economic mobility, but access to college education and competence in English had become increasingly more difficult for the youth. Post-EDSA I, the government addressed the problem by establishing public colleges more affordable to students. It took a while for these schools to build up the quality of their programs and even longer to establish their credibility to the public. What these institutions could not do was to reverse the steady erosion of English mastery being experienced even by the leading private schools.
Government periodically considered the idea of mandating the use of English as the medium of instruction in all subjects at all levels of education, an idea warmly applauded by the business community. PBEd’s first major policy intervention persuaded business leaders that this move would be disastrous. Demographic change and the shifts in the social, cultural, and political environment were mutually reinforcing factors in the progressive decline of English. Such tidal forces did not respond to the laws of kings or Congress. Especially when the country clearly lacked the supply of competent English teachers to implement the plan.
It bears noting that DepEd’s policy shift started modestly in 1997. DepEd, with the assistance of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), launched the First Language Bridging Component pilot project in Lubuagan, one of 10 school districts in the Kalinga Division of the Cordillera Administrative Region. A visit to Lubuagan in 2004 confirmed the promising progress in the comprehension of the three languages, as demonstrated by Grade 3 children in reading exercises and in their verbal responses to simple questions.
Program administrators also noted what educators now stress as a major factor in enhancing the learning of children: the involvement of parents in their education. Parents were unable to help their children – and embarrassed by the fact – when these were being schooled in a language they did not understand. But they were the experts in the mother tongue and took pride in their ability to tutor their children.
In 2007, Kalinga topped the Division in the reading tests in both English and Pilipino, recording better results in the English than the Filipino test. The initial success encouraged DepEd to mandate in 2009 the use of the children’s mother tongue as LOI from K to Grade 3 in all public schools. Since then, however, the failure of MTBMLE to develop basic literacy among children has prompted two kinds of reactions. Those dubious from the start about the approach claim that hindsight proves their 20-20 vision; they knew all along that the policy was ill-advised. The others more accepting of the MTBMLE logic wonder at what point the program went astray.
Was Congress prudent in expanding MTBMLE coverage to private schools at the same time it was requiring the difficult transition from K10-12? Perhaps. The issue should be a priority focus of the EDCOM II that Congress will convene. – Rappler.com
Edilberto de Jesus is a senior research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government.